Back to Basics #25: Improving Problem-Solving Skills in the Workplace

Back to Basics #25

Part of owning a successful business is being able to make sound decisions--for the good of your employees as well as for the future of your company. Your business thrives in a positive, supportive atmosphere, and if you aren't able to make the decisions necessary to get you to these goals, you're going to suffer financially as well as emotionally. But solving business-related problems is tough. We get it.

What if you're inexperienced with workplace issues? What if the idea of "creative problem solving" sends you running? What if you feel like you just don't understand your employees, your HR department--heck, anyone at all?

In this Back to Basics article, we'll talk about ways that you can improve your problem-solving skills so that you can make business-related decisions with confidence. Let's get started!

The Problem with Problem Solving

problem-solving

When asked about their problem solving skills, many people worry that they don't measure up. If you're the type of person who views their problem solving skills as sub-par, then you know just how much more difficult this can make owning--and running--a business.

But don't worry, there are easy ways to boost your confidence when making decisions. One of the most helpful things you can do is identify one of three types of commonly-encountered workplace issues: communication problems, attitude problems, and productivity problems. By addressing these issues individually, you'll find that the atmosphere overall will improve dramatically, letting you make more sound decisions with a clearer mind and more positive outlook.

communication

Communication problems:

Is there an issue with your messages being received in the wrong way? Have you sent out a memo, only to have people misinterpret what you've said? Do you feel like you can never get through to a certain department? These sorts of problems can be so severe that they can actually contribute to the downfall of fledgling small businesses and start-ups. Don't let communication problems get in the way of your company's overall happiness.

You might want to try:

Having someone edit your emails, documents, and presentations. If you've had that memo problem we mentioned above, this could be the solution. After having someone look over your written material, you can then make sure everyone has seen and understood the message during your next meeting. Listen to feedback and implement suggestions to make sure everyone continues to understand your messages.

Checking your emotions. If your messages are continually being received in the wrong way, you might want to check your emotions. Are you coming off too aggressively? Are you disregarding others' opinions? Are you simply reacting emotionally to a problem rather than coming up with real solutions? We all experience frustration, confusion, and even anger in the workplace. But as a boss, you must set an example for your employees. By keeping your emotions in check, you'll be able to communicate more clearly and effectively.

Listening to others. If you just can't get through to someone, call them in to your office and speak with them honestly and openly. Maybe they have a reading difficulty, such as dyslexia, and simply can't parse your memos. Maybe they struggle with verbal directions and need written or visual directions. Everyone's learning style is different, and by speaking and listening to your employees, you can gain a better understanding of their needs to do their job to the best of their ability.

For more suggestions, try this article: http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/common-communication-mistakes.htm

attitude

Attitude problems:

If you've been dealing with employees who just seem to have a bad attitude, then you have a completely different problem on your hands--and a tough one at that. While you could always terminate the employee if things are really bad, there are other ways to try to address the problem before you go overboard:

Take notes. Keep track of the problems the employee presents. When you have collected and notated a few instances, talk to them about their performance and address how their attitude has been affecting others. Many times, an employee will recognize that they have been acting in a negative way, and will try to correct it without you having to take further action.

Agree on a plan. Most of the time, the employee is acting out because they perceive there to be a significant problem (that may or may not exist). Whether it's being interrupted on their breaks, sitting next to a disruptive colleague, family troubles, or general laziness, distractions and frustrations in the workplace can manifest from many different sources. The good news is that many people will try to change when confronted. Agree on a plan of action and ensure the employee follows through with it.

Dispense discipline where needed. If you never follow through with discipline, the problem will not go away. Never wait for it to simply disappear. It won't. Instead, utilize written warnings in a progressive system—First warning, second warning, suspension, termination. Of course, you must make sure you operate within HR's policies.

For more ideas, try these resources:

monkey-productivity

Productivity Problems:

Everyone must deal with the unproductive employee at some point or another. There's just no way around it. Whether you're a small business owner or you deal with large corporations, there will always be employees who just don't want to meet your productivity standards. To solve this problem, you must address it head on. It will never go away by ignoring it. To start, try:

Remind the employee of their job and their importance to the company. Many employees get fed up, particularly in larger companies, where they feel their jobs don't matter. Reminding them that they are indeed important, and stressing the importance of their duties, should help put them back on track again. Many times, they just need to feel appreciated.

Take a look at the job itself. Jobs change over time. Sometimes people end up having to learn skills they never expected to learn and become unhappy that their jobs have changed so much. Other jobs actually become outdated or become obsolete, even while you're still employing the person who does them! Other times, the job itself is boring. Plain and simple. These employees will need a little bit of extra incentive or some creativity involved to keep them meeting productivity standards, and a little bit of motivation to keep them interested.

Managing your own small business can be tough. And of course, despite your best efforts, you're going to run into some problems with things like productivity, bad attitudes, and poor communication. But with a little bit of effort, you'll be able to improve on every one of these problems, and work your way toward a more positive, productive, and communicative work environment.

Can you think of any other problems that you've tackled in the workplace? What methods work for you? Let us know in the comments below!